Last month I turned thirty-four and vowed to be a little kinder to my body. I want to give it more respect, to stop judging it so harshly, to discontinue defining it by society’s standards. I resolve to love my body for what it is, rather than continue to hate it for what it will never be.
I’ve got a mane of thick curly hair, symmetric features, a nose that fits my face. I’m certain that when most people look at me, they notice few of the petty imperfections that plague my body image. My body is healthy; it is strong, undamaged. But it is a body that I see laden with flaws; like fine hairs on a photo negative—only visible to the scrutiny of my overzealous eye.
Like many women who go from a teenage size twelve to a grown-up size two, I will always view myself as inherently fat. I’m forty pounds lighter and well within a healthy weight, yet I live on a self-prescribed, perpetual diet. I hover at a weight that keeps me just content enough to remain unmotivated to exercise. When the pants start to feel too tight right out of the closet, rather than out of the dryer, I motivate.
Snapshots of my teenager years reveal a girl overweight and under status quo. More at ease within the context of the powdered sugar of my dad’s donut shop than in my mother’s make up bag, I have cemented those images onto the refrigerator door of my mind in an effort to protect me from falling back into that place. These images pop up whenever I need them, like a cow-shaped cookie jar that moos when you open it, they are a mental reminder to forgo the full fat ice cream or to drop the extra handful of peanut M&Ms.
I look in the mirror and I see everything I’d like to change about my body; like an editor scribbles with red pen over a document—I see everything I’d like to cut, delete, and move around. I’m not alone.
Nowadays you can ask a woman what she’d like to change about her body and she will give you a list. Botox this, collagen here, lipo there, tighten this, lift that.
Photographs for me pose a special threat and require detailed attention to many elements at once. I stand at an angle to look thinner; I don’t like my face shot head-on since it appears fatter. I prefer to be photographed on my right side; I don’t like the freckles on the left side of my face. When I smile, I’m careful so that it is big enough to show my straight teeth, but not so big that it shows off my big gums. If I’m laughing, the vein pops out in my forehead. I’m very conscious of my hair—if it’s too curly, it gets frizzy; if I wear it back, I seem bald.
I like my neck. As a chubby teenager, my mom used to joke that I got my dad’s short neck. Now that I’m a slender gal, I got me a slender neck.
I don’t like my boobs—for so many reasons. Too small, too saggy, mismatched entirely. Had my breasts succeeding at the one thing for which they serve purpose—breastfeeding—I would maintain a lot more appreciation for them.
I hate my pooch, as I call it—my lower belly that sticks out despite an otherwise indented, hourglass waist. My pooch often holds the number one spot for most hated body part; its main competition being my legs. The shape of my legs is awful; a fat wide knee sprouting from an otherwise normal calf connecting to fatty thighs. An unattractive trail of varicose veins runs down half the length of my leg—a bubbling river from my inner thigh to mid calf.
I like my calves and my toned arms, though they’re not often entered into a sexy category. I love my back—its strength, its clean expanse of skin, the tattoo I chose to put there.
I hate my feet; they’re too wide with the fourth toe hiding behind the third—the lone inhibited bone in my body. But I sustain an admiration for them; they have successfully transported me through many of life’s terrains as I collected the memories in its path.
I am eternally grateful for the services of my uterus. It successfully housed and nourished my growing son for ten months.
Historically we exist at a point where the average person has access to change almost anything about their body. Our society has blossomed into a culture that changes to conform, rather than one that accepts differences and individuality.
Hollywood has permeated our lives, presenting us with Ken and Barbie-like ideals. Synthetic idols as models for a society that strives—often through dramatic measures—to plug ourselves into the same plastic mold.
My boyfriend is a brilliant photographer who often succeeds at making his subjects look striking. “I pull out what’s beautiful about the person and focus on that,” he says.
As I stare at the mirror into a reflection of imperfection, I wish I could see my body through his adoring eyes. I often catch him gazing at me, his eyes surrendering into mine. He doesn’t see my ordinary brown eyes; he dives, soul-first, into a kaleidoscope of brown, glinting with gold flecks.
Now if more of the world can see through an artist’s eye …